Whats Wrong With OSCAR?

This is in response to Phillip Clarkes editorial in the June 2008 issue of Railway Digest

OSCAR on The Harbour BridgeA comparison between the Intercity V-Set cars and the Outer Suburban H-Set cars is never going to be a fair one. They are very different trainsets, designed for different uses, and comparing one to the other is largely a futile excercise, as both were designed in different times, for different purposes. Really, the only thing the two trainsets have in common is their destinations.

The Commonwealth Engineering built V-Set cars (introduced in the 1970’s) were the first double deck interurban cars to run for the (then) Public Transport Commission (PTC), and were a huge step forward for commuters, as the new double deck cars could carry significantly more passengers, in air conditioned comfort, and without the hassles involved with being a locomotive hauled train versus electric multiple unit. Built to service the long haul passenger destinations along the electrified sections of the State Rail network (present day being Lithgow, Kiama and Newcastle), they were, and still are a huge success.

V-Set at Dora CreekThe interiors of the V-Set cars best demonstrates their intentions. They have plenty of two plus two reversible seating down the car, with toilets located in pairs at the ends of trailer cars. However, all of this space comes at a price – the cars are far longer than any other cars in service on the Cityrail network, which means that a full eight car train is unable to use the underground platforms at Town Hall, Wynyard, as well as those on the Eastern Suburbs Line. This is an important downside, as a number of peak hour trains from South Coast and Central Coast lines use the underground platforms, rather than terminating at Sydney Terminal.

As the cars were built from the 1970’s, it is important to note that they are not especially easy for disabled passengers to use. Unlike all other electric and diesel stock on the Cityrail network, the doors on V-Set cars must be opened manually by the passengers when unlocked by the guard. While the V-Set cars have many toilets, they are little bigger than a closet, and it would be impossible to make them wheelchair friendly. Doors between the vestibules and the passenger saloons are also very narrow, and next to impossible to fit a wheelchair through.

The V-Sets excel at what they were built for, which is for interurban travel to destinations a few hours away from Sydney, such as Newcastle, Fassifern (Lake Macquarie) Katoomba, Lithgow, and other destinations a similar distance away. They were built during a timeV-Set at Adamstown when people would take their family for a weekend or holiday away from the city by train, rather than by family car.

The OSCARs, or Outer Suburban Cars are very different from their V-Set “counterparts”. They are not designed for long haul passenger travel, rather, they are designed to make long distance peak hour commutes more pleasant.

Built by United Goninans from 2006, the OSCARs are essentially a suburban commuter train, with a number of additions to make longer commutes more pleasant for passengers, as well as bringing areas such as Gosford, Kiama and Wyong a wheelchair accessible railway service to the Sydney Metropolitan Area. Advantages of the OSCAR train over a normal suburban train are many. Firstly, like the Millennium train before them, they feature a number of hidden CCTV cameras around the train, which can be viewed at any time by the trains crew (who can them quickly and discreetly radio for police to meet the train at a station if they notice any disruptions on board). This makes the train far safer for passengers and crew alike.

Importantly, the OSCAR trains are also designed with Wheelchair passengers in mind. Where the two intermediate motor cars meet is where the disabled toilet is located, which is adjacent to a section of flip-up seating so that wheelchairs are not parked in the middle of the vestibule. To make the toilet wheelchair accessible takes up a lot of room. For there to be more than one toilet on the train would mean sacrificing a lot of passenger space. This would be a serious issue, as trains from Wollongong and Gosford can get especially crowded as they go straight into the city underground, saving passengers changing at Central to get to busy inner city stations such as Town Hall, Wynyard and Martin Place.

OSCAR at BomboAnother key feature of the OSCAR train is it’s length. By designing a train the same length as the rest of the suburban cars in service, this enables an eight car train to fit wholly on the underground platforms at Wynyard, Town Hall, Central, Redfern, Martin Place, Kings Cross, Edgecliff and Bondi Junction. Prior to the introduction of the OSCAR’s, these services (originating from Springwood, Wyong, Gosford, Port Kembla, Dapto or Kiama) would use the fleet of Outer Suburban Tangaras (G-Sets). Due to their not being enough G-Set Tangaras to operate all of these services, a number would be forced to run with standard suburban (T-Set) Tangaras with no toilets, and no reversible seating at all! With the introduction of 8-Car OSCAR services on the South Coast and Central Coast Lines, this has freed up the G-Sets to fill the remaining, non-OSCAR services as 8-car trains.

With the price of petrol rising higher each week, more and more people are turning to public transport as an option for their daily commute. This is especially highlighted on the trains from Gosford/Wollongong, as suddenly a lot more people are trying to cram onto a train which was designed for fewer people to travel in comfort – not as a mass commuter train. Again, this is an excellent example of the OSCAR living up to it’s design principle. With it’s three plus two seating on each deck of the train, more people are able to sit down on their train trip to work, which can be as long as two hours each way. With more people seated, this means less people standing in the vestibule areas of the train, which again is an increase in passenger comfort. Those that do have to stand will find it far easier on an OSCAR, with plenty of room in the vOSCAR at Adamstownestibule of the train, and plenty of hand holds. Those who have tried to stand on a V-Set interurban will know that there is little, if anything to hold on, and no room to stand that doesn’t block people walking down the isles to get off the train!

The introduction of the OSCAR EMU has allowed the building up of a number of suburban services from six to eight cars (by releasing T-Set Tangaras from interurban runs, this has allowed a number of R-Sets to be made into S-Sets), as well as the building up of a number of V-Set interurban runs from four to six, and six to eight cars. Considering the petrol price crush is affecting commuters in western, northern and southern Sydney as well as those coming from Newcastle/Katoomba, this is most beneficial to them as well as those directly advantaged by the OSCAR trains.

The seating in OSCAR trains has been called “uncomfortable”, when compared to the V-Set seating. Again, this is an unfair comparison, as the V-Set seating has been designed for train trips of over two hours, when passengers really need the comfort the most. The OSCAR seating should ideally be compared to the seating of a normal suburban train. Most people would prefer to sit on an OSCAR between Wyong and Central as opposed to a T-Set Tangara! Especially when you consider an OSCAR has a toilet, when a T-Set Tangara does not! Another under appreciated aspect of the seating on OSCARs, is that the seats have been designed with vandals in mind – a number of unsavory people over the years have found it very entertaining to rip open or dismantle the seats on the V-Set trains. This negates the comfort factor of the seating, as it is very hard to sit down when there is no seat to sit on! The OSCAR seats, are of a much more robust design, with fabric that is hard to tag or tear, and next to impossible to take the seat apart.

V-Set at GosfordComparing a V-Set to an OSCAR is comparing an apple to an orange. If an OSCAR was running for a three plus hour trip between Sydney and Newcastle, or between Sydney and Lithgow, as the V-Sets do, there would be more of a basis for comparison. Both trains are designed to get people to and from the city in as much comfort as possible. The V-Set, for the longer runs over many hours, while the OSCAR for the shorter runs from the outer suburbs.

Authors Note: My next goal is to get some decent photos of the interiors of both trainsets to provide further basis for comparison.

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4 thoughts on “Whats Wrong With OSCAR?

  1. Hi Trent,

    Not having read the origional RD article – here are a couple of points to consider..

    – I don’t think “State Rail” was in existence in the 1970’s when V sets were first introduced, perhaps it was still the Public Transport Commission (or the PTC), the original ‘Blue Goose’ livery may confirm this, but I am willing to stand corrected.

    – V sets were introduced more so, because of progress… and to increase passenger capacity and comfort (air con) on the longer interurban trips, (much like double deck suburbans did) over the then U sets. If i recall a U boat carriage is/was also quite long…?

    – Private motor vehicle ownership was well entrenched by the 70’s (regardless of the oil crisis) and the romantic notion of traveling by train for weekends away within the extent of the electric network had well and truly passed.

    – Agreed that the current DDA legislation had not even been considered when the V sets were built. But to give credit to the then, State Rail, several (?) V sets were / have been upgraded to make access better within the limitiations of the existing carriages along with better visual connections from the vestibules to help with security.

    – Agreed the V set toilets are not great, seasoned travelers will generally plan ahead and avoid them. (makes you wonder what all those car cleaners at Central actually do?) But if I recall correctly from traveling on the Central West – XPT regularly in the 90’s the toilets are not much bigger than a V set!

    – I am unaware if OSCAR’s have the provision for the carrying of bicycles? From my understanding that in at least one location on a V set there is provision for the carriage of bicycles. Surely thats a positive for reducing carbon emissions and encouraging the use of public transport.

    – I suppose i should have fessed up at the start – I catch a V set to and from Sydney daily so I am a little biased – My journey time ranges from 1-1/4 to 1- 3/4 hours each way depending on the time of my trip, which is under your 2 hour time frame quoted, While we cannot stop progress and things are improving all the time I just don’t think I would want to undertake my commute on an OSCAR, you should see how empty the G(?) – outer Tangara sets are heading west past Emu Plains up to Springwood.

    I enjoy your blog and the sharing of your excellent images – keep up the good work.

    1. It’s good to make an analysis 4 years down the track (pardon the pun) but it seems that even the present NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian even now seems to accept that the OSCAR sets are not the best sets for longer commuter trips.
      It seems to me that the OSCAR sets are actually a compromise – and a not very satisfactory one – for a shotfall in planning over many many years.
      Let’s go right back to the late 1940s and early 50s, when quadruplication work commenced on the Northern Line between Strathfield and Epping. How many people realise that the present Meadowbank Bridge was commenced in 1948!
      So why is it still unfinished (check out the incomplete cuttings near Meadowbank Station). Well, in the mid 50s some American “experts” advised NSWGR that with impending converstion to electric haulage to Gosford the extra track capacity wouldn’t be needed. How replacing one steam train with one electric train would “reduce capacity” is not clear. Anyway the NSWGR took heed of the “experts” advice and suspended the quadruplication, and it remains suspended to this day, despite an urgent need for its completion.
      With the resultant bottleneck between Rhodes and West Ryde (down line) and between West Ryde and North Strathfield (up), extra trains just can’t fit in, and so Cityrail now resorts to using Central Coast services as de facto express services to Eastwood and Epping, with resultant overcrowding. Solution? Come up with a train that will be essentially an Eastwood/Epping train which just happens to continue to the Central Coast. Hence, the OSCAR sets!
      So tell me, how is a train designed to be “comfortable for long distance commuters” when it has hanging hand-hold for many standees?
      Compare the size of the OSCAR seats (the first lot anyway, with – not a suburban train – but an O-Class tram. The OSCAR seats are longer for the legs, but not much!
      The V-sets need a makeover, including renovation of toilets to make them larger, and installing security camera. It’s up to Railcorp to decide if the extra cost is warranted.
      Incidentally I have seen V-sets on the Eastern suburbs line, so they can be used for Illawarra services to Bondi Jun if need be.

  2. Mal – in regards to bike storage – the vestible in the OSCARS is where you put your bike – just like a suburban train. Capacity wise it can hold much more bikes than a V.

    Sure you can’t go off and sit down somewhere else on the train – but during special events – such as the MS bike ride from Heathcote to Wollongong – The V set is really out of place with all those cyclists as they all can’t get on.

    As for the seats – I find it really interesting how suburban passengers enjoy riding on an M set and would prefer it over all others – and yet, people outside of Sydney just can’t accept new things. I have a feeling its more got to do than just hating the OSCAR – its more of a generation thing.

    Finally – the V set is not being replaced by the OSCAR. The only possiblity of an OSCAR replacing a V’s normal run is the “All stations to Wyong” on teh Central Coast and the South Coast Line. Oscars can go to Newcastle, but with the new timetable with the epping – chatswood link – i believe they want to swing a service via the ECRL – and therefore, putting it on Newcastle runs means it will hardly visit ECRL. I have a feeling Gosford (as it should be) will start being treated as a suburban station due to the V’s struggling with the overcrowding in peak.

    The Blue mountains line will see V’s trundling along beyond Springwood for many years to come.

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